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Sale critics bring Nalco to a halt
- Govt warned of ‘long-drawn’ battle

Bhubaneswar, June 23: A token 24-hour strike against the planned divestment in Nalco today brought production to a halt at the aluminium major’s 950-tonne-a-day smelter plant.

The Centre had yesterday okayed a proposal to sell 10 per cent of its shares in the company, dismaying the Left, Orissa’s ruling BJP-Biju Janata Dal combine and even powerful sections of the Congress.

“The aluminium production from the smelter plant has stopped. We have made temporary arrangements to keep the potline alive,” Nalco executive director U.B. Patnaik said.

The strikers allowed 153 executives and 106 casual workers to run Nalco’s six captive power plants, which have a capacity of 650 mw, so that the potline could run and a shutdown of the smelter plant could be avoided.

Tomorrow, employees at the company’s alumina refinery in Damanjodi, Koraput, would hold a token 24-hour strike. There are about 4,500 staff ' including 1,100 executives ' at the smelter plant in Angul and over 3,500 employees at the Damanjodi refinery.

The strike has been organised by the Coordination Committee of Nalco Employees Association, Nalco Shramik Sangh, Nalco Employees Forum and Nalco Employees Federation of India, affiliated variously to Citu, Intuc and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

“The token strike is a warning to the government to go back on its decision,” said Shivaji Patnaik, a CPM leader and president of the Citu-affiliated Nalco Employees Federation of India. “If the government does not relent, it will lead to a long-drawn confrontation.”

The strike leaders were expected to meet on Friday evening to chalk out their future course of action.

A request to the Centre to reconsider the decision came also from the state government. “Nalco has been a symbol of Orissa’s pride and there has been widespread discontent among the people,” chief minister Naveen Patnaik wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“The proposal may be given a second thought and any requirement for expansion or otherwise of Nalco may be allowed to be met from its internal resources.”

The Left parties have said they would chalk out a plan of protest later this month. “This is creeping privatisation,” CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury had said yesterday.

As it cleared the proposal to sell 10 per cent of its stake in Nalco and Neyveli Lignite Corporation, the government had said it hoped to mop up Rs 2,500 crore.

After the sale, the government’s equity would come down from 87.15 per cent to 77.15 per cent at Nalco, and from 93.56 per cent to 83.56 per cent at Neyveli Lignite.

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